Aging is something you cannot escape, and it affects all family systems. It can be challenging for adult children to imagine their parents as seniors and to understand and respond to the reality that each parent will age differently. Even if you are in the fortunate circumstance where your aging parents can go it alone for a long time, a day will come when some sort of assistance or long-term care will be needed. There are things to consider as you help your parents live their best possible aging scenario. Managing their welfare takes time, research, and planning.
Your parents and their abilities to remain independent are most easily defined by activities of daily living and instrumental activities of daily living (ADLs and IADLs). Activities of daily living address daily functional mobility: getting in and out of bed or a chair; self-feeding; bathing and personal hygiene; the ability to use the toilet; and the ability to get dressed. These ADLs are essential daily living requirements that promote dignity and physical and emotional well-being for your elderly parents. If your parents are having difficulty managing these ADLs, it is an appropriate time to find help for them whether it is you or another qualified caregiver.
IADLs include all of the above ADLs and more. The additions are grocery shopping and cooking, medication management, laundry and other housework, bill paying and finance management, using a telephone, and driving or using public transportation. Recognizing your parent's limitations in any of these categories is a sign that you need to develop a care plan that provides appropriate assistance. The degree of change or sometimes multiple changes is an indication that staying at home may no longer be appropriate and safe for your parents. If you require assistance in determining suitable care needs, you can set up a comprehensive geriatric assessment by a medical professional. Take an honest look at the stage of life your parent is experiencing and then find the support and help they require.
Your aging parents' geographical location is critical to consider as a family. Families are fortunate when one adult child lives nearby and can ensure their parent's well-being. Video chat either online or through a phone application is one way to daily check on a parent. A friend may live close by and can do wellness checks and provide information about behavioral or health changes. If none of these options are viable, it may be time to discuss the idea of your parent(s) downsizing into another more supportive location and living arrangement.
Having this discussion is best before a parent has an adverse health event. Making residential changes without a previous plan in place can negatively impact your parent, especially when experiencing a health care crisis. When aging at home cannot be appropriately managed, it is time to consider the alternatives. These alternatives may include independent living communities, assisted living communities, nursing homes, or living with a trustworthy and capable relative or family member.
All of these assessments and changes in your parents' lives impact their financial outlook. Making necessary residential changes can often be very costly, and your parents may need additional financial support from government or community programs to offset the difference in expenses. It is critical to take advantage of all possible financial help. As an adult child, you may have to begin managing their finances and retirement funds more actively. There are various federal, state, and non-profit groups that provide free tax assistance for seniors.
Some of the better organizations to help you navigate what is available are online and include Benefits.gov, Area Agency on Aging, and Benefitscheckup.org. These groups can help you assess the best strategies for housing, healthcare, financial assistance, legal aid, transportation, in-home services, prescription drugs, energy and utility support, and nutrition. "BenefitsCheckUp" is part of the National Council on Aging and is considered the nation's most comprehensive online service for seniors with limited income and resources. The information available canvases all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Caring for your aging parents should not be the job of one family member. The commitment should not be a burden, and responsibilities should be shared. Look for caregiver support organizations and forums as well as involving all family members. Everyone should do their part. The goal is to find the best blend of options and resources to allow your parents to age happily and well. Your parents' health changes require that programs and opportunities change too. Caring for your aging parent is a dynamic process that must be retooled as their needs change.
We help families who are trying to navigate the maze of long-term care either for themselves or for an aging parent. Please don't hesitate to contact our Winthrop, Maine office by calling (207) 377-6966.